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  1. #1
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    Bicycle death leads to legislative proposal

    This copied from page 3 of The Illinois Bicyclist Winter Issue, about the attempt to create the offense of Negligent Vehicular Homicide in Illinois. Do any other states have legislation similar to this?

    By Julia Reitz, Champaign County State's Attourney

    Matt Wilhelm, 25, died on September 8, 2006, after he was struck by a vehicle on September 2 while riding his bicycle on Illinois 130 in Champaign County. The driver, Jennifer Stark, 19, admitted that she had been distracted by her cell phone and left her lane. When she looked up, she saw Matt, but was unable to get out of his way to avoid hitting him.

    At the conclusion of their investigation, the Illinois State Police wrote Ms. Stark a ticket for Improper Lane Usage, a petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $1000.00. The prosecutor is not required to follow the decision of the police agency. We have the discretion to decline to prosecute, or to file additional charges. In light of Matt’s death, we reviewed the State Police investigation and considered filing more serious charges against Ms. Stark.

    The only other possible charge available to us was Reckless Homicide, a class 2 felony punishable by from 3 to 14 years in the Illinois Department of Corrections. Reckless Homicide requires a finding that the accused acted purposefully, with a knowing acceptance of a specific risk, and with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others, when causing the death of another. Following extensive research, consultation with other prosecutors, judges, and attorneys, we determined that Ms. Stark’s actions, while clearly negligent, did not rise to the level of recklessness as it has been defined in the statute and in case history, making a Reckless Homicide conviction unlikely.

    There is a significant hole in Illinois law with regard to traffic fatalities. Prosecutors are left with a choice between two charges: a petty offense punishable by a fine, and a class 2 felony, punishable by a significant prison sentence. Neither of the possible charges or penalties appropriately address the facts of the Wilhelm case and many cases like it: a driver, through his or her negligence, causes the death of another. Many other states have Negligent Vehicular Homicide statutes, which provide for increased penalties when a driver negligently causes the death of another.

    With the assistance of the League of Illinois Bicyclists, the Wilhelm family, the Illinois State’s Attorney’s Association, and our local legislators, my staff and I have drafted a proposed new law to create the offense of Negligent Vehicular Homicide in Illinois. This offense would be a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year incarceration in the local Correctional Center, or by a community based sentence of public service work and education. We also propose that the offender’s driver’s license be subject to a mandatory term of suspension. Currently, the Secretary of State has the discretion to suspend an offender’s driver’s license following a traffic fatality.

    As State’s Attorney in Champaign County, I appreciate the support that the League of Illinois Bicyclists has provided for this proposal. A Negligent Vehicular Homicide law would help Illinois prosecutors more appropriately address tragic circumstances such as Matt Wilhelm’s death, and would benefit all users of our public roadways.

  2. #2
    Asshat skingry's Avatar
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    This is the same girl who had a MySpace account that had a blog entry about "Please don't judge me."

    A mental note to myself... if i ever want to get rid of somebody, I just need to get them on a bike in Illinois so I can run them over, pay my thousand dollar fine (cheaper than a paid hit!) and be on my way.
    Ride bikes, listen to SLAYER.

  3. #3
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    ...and with willful and wanton disregard for the safety of others...

    Wouldn't jacking with her cell phone when she's supposed to be paying attention to the road qualify?? F'ing amazing

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    Senior Member mlh122's Avatar
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    I wonder what i would think if she hit me, but i survived and was laying on the side of the road and she got out of her car to come check on me and said "uhh i was trying to download a ringtone".

    I also think she should worse punishment taking into account her bad drving record. If i remember right she had a very very bad driving record, with reckless endangerment charges within 3 weeks before she hit the cyclist.

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    No--a willful or wanton disregard usually requires knowledge that there is a substantial probability of causing harm to someone----In this case, the way it is described in the paper, the girl didnt see the cyclist when she started to fiddle on her phone---In other words she was merely not paying attention--i.e. negligent, as oppossed to not giving a *****. So the prosecutor would not be able to prove she knowingly acted in the face of risk of harming someone. An example of reckless driving would be travelling at 90 miles an hour runnign from the cops and blowing red lights. You are clearly more than negligent---but you are not necessarily intending to harm someone. Instead, you are acting in a way that creates a substantial risk of harming the public, you know about that risk is there and you continue to act anyways.


    I think the idea of a negligent homicide by use of a motor vehcile is a good addition to the traffic law.

  6. #6
    Banned Bikepacker67's Avatar
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    No--a willful or wanton disregard usually requires knowledge that there is a substantial probability of causing harm to someone----In this case, the way it is described in the paper, the girl didnt see the cyclist when she started to fiddle on her phone
    That's a stinking pile.
    She didn't assume there would be other vehicles (whether she saw them or not*) on a flippin' public road??!

    * how the hell was she supposed to see him with her eyes glued to an LCD screen?

  7. #7
    Dominatrikes sbhikes's Avatar
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    And what would the purpose be to separate reckless homicide from vehicular reckless homicide? Would it be to allow people to not have to go to prison for killing people with their cars? Sounds like this is more a nod to the cell phone industry than any kind of protection for citizens.
    ~Diane
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikepacker67
    That's a stinking pile.
    She didn't assume there would be other vehicles (whether she saw them or not*) on a flippin' public road??!

    * how the hell was she supposed to see him with her eyes glued to an LCD screen?

    I'm not saying I like it--I am saying that the prosecutor and police were correct under the law. That is why I support adding negligent homicide by use of a motor vehcile. If your position were correct than anyone someone got into an accident becuase they were a) smoking; b) playing with the radio c) yelling at their kids d) arguing with their passenger, etc., etc. would be considered reckless.

    You have to seperate the mental element (recklessness/negligence) from the physical element (death)

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    Banned Bikepacker67's Avatar
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    Ohh come on Skanking Biker, surely keeping your eyes OFF the road for extended periods (more than 3 seconds), while you travel 70 feet per second constitutes recklessness.

    At least to anyone with a brain. Put it this way... would a normal driver feel their life was in danger if they where going 45mph with a blindfold on for the time that little Jenny was downloading her ringtone?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikepacker67
    Ohh come on Skanking Biker, surely keeping your eyes OFF the road for extended periods (more than 3 seconds), while you travel 70 feet per second constitutes recklessness.

    At least to anyone with a brain. Put it this way... would a normal driver feel their life was in danger if they where going 45mph with a blindfold on for the time that little Jenny was downloading her ringtone?

    Hey---I'm simply saying that if I take my eyes off the road ifor a second n my car, traffic stops ahead and I slam into the car in front of me, pushing it off the road or whatever and someone dies--I probably will be charged criminally---but not with reckless homicide.

    The crime this girl committed in the article is manslaughter---she killed someone without intending to do so and without knowing that there was a substantial risk she would kill someone. Depending on the jurisdiction, it may be called, manslaughter, Homicide in the 3rd degree, negligent homicide----

    My point is not that she she did was not criminal---its that from a strictly legal perspective--what she did was not reckless homicide

  11. #11
    Banned Bikepacker67's Avatar
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    she killed someone without intending to do so and without knowing that there was a substantial risk she would kill someone.
    Barrelling down a public road with your eyes off the road might kill someone?? Who da thunk it?
    Gee it was just an accident.

  12. #12
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bikepacker67
    Ohh come on Skanking Biker, surely keeping your eyes OFF the road for extended periods (more than 3 seconds), while you travel 70 feet per second constitutes recklessness.

    At least to anyone with a brain. Put it this way... would a normal driver feel their life was in danger if they where going 45mph with a blindfold on for the time that little Jenny was downloading her ringtone?
    It depends - there is a difference, under the law, between negligence and recklessness.

    Negligence is failure to act with the prudence that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.

    Recklessness is wanton disregard for the dangers of a situation.

    So basically, if she didn't observe any obvious danger from her actions, ie. traffic in close enough proximity that she might run into, she was merely negligent.

    That's the way the law works, dude...words and their interpretation. While you or I might agree that she was reckless for taking her eyes off the road at all, proving it in a court is an entirely different animal.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

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    Senior Member Keith99's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sbhikes
    And what would the purpose be to separate reckless homicide from vehicular reckless homicide? Would it be to allow people to not have to go to prison for killing people with their cars? Sounds like this is more a nod to the cell phone industry than any kind of protection for citizens.
    No, and since you are the only poster I noticed taking a position on this side of the fence that remained civil I think a civil answer is in order.

    There is a different phrase I am familiar with, perhaps it will help. Gross and willful neglegence. That is pretty much what the article is talking about for a class 2 felony. The way gross and willful neglegence was explained to me is that it is a disregard rising to the level of being the same as an intentional act. It is firing a gun in the air or through a fence, you were not shooting at anyone, but your lack of concern rises to the same level. It really is a rare thing. When you look at the sentence 3-14 years it is about the same as when someone intending violence and real harm accidently kills someone. This does not deserve the same sentence as an intentional action (The absolute sentences is a different issue).

    What the proposed law does is allow for criminal prosecution that falls somewhere inbetween and requires only ordinary neglegence. Lets say it gives a sentence range of 6 months to 10 years and that cell phone use was covered. Cases like the text messaging driver could get the max of 10.

    I would point out that gross and willful neglegence can change on a persson by person basis. Where it shows up most often in traffic cases is repeat drunks. It is very very rare for first offences, but for subsequent offences it is becoming common. That is because of the individual being aware of the dangers involved. The have been made aware by the courts, yet they continue, that can constitute gross and willfull neglegence.

    In this case we have no evidence (and a I doubt any exists) that the driver was aware of the danger. Yes aware in hindsight, but hindsight is always 20-20.

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    Quote Originally Posted by chipcom
    It depends - there is a difference, under the law, between negligence and recklessness.

    Negligence is failure to act with the prudence that a reasonable person would exercise under the same circumstances.

    Recklessness is wanton disregard for the dangers of a situation.

    So basically, if she didn't observe any obvious danger from her actions, ie. traffic in close enough proximity that she might run into, she was merely negligent.

    That's the way the law works, dude...words and their interpretation. While you or I might agree that she was reckless for taking her eyes off the road at all, proving it in a court is an entirely different animal.

    Chipcom is correct on this one---I'm an attorney (there, I "outed" myself)

    This is why I said that "based on the information in the story." Certainly it is possible to support a charge of reckless homicide where a motorist kills a cyclist while not looking at the road----but it depends on the facts of each case. The key fact in distingishing reckless behavior from negligent behavior is what the actor "knew" at the time s/he decided to engage in the behavior. Thus, if the driver had observed a cyclist close to her car and started futzing with her cell phone/radio/ipod/whatever-----you might be able to support a charge of reckless homicide. However, if at the time the driver looked away, there was no immediate danger noticable to her, then her actions were merely negligent, i.e., fell below the standard of ordinary care.

  15. #15
    your nightmare gal chipcom's Avatar
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    I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
    "Let us hope our weapons are never needed --but do not forget what the common people knew when they demanded the Bill of Rights: An armed citizenry is the first defense, the best defense, and the final defense against tyranny. If guns are outlawed, only the government will have guns. Only the police, the secret police, the military, the hired servants of our rulers. Only the government -- and a few outlaws. I intend to be among the outlaws" - Edward Abbey

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    Quote Originally Posted by chipcom
    I stayed at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
    ok--that was funny

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by mlh122
    I wonder what i would think if she hit me, but i survived and was laying on the side of the road and she got out of her car to come check on me and said "uhh i was trying to download a ringtone".

    I also think she should worse punishment taking into account her bad drving record. If i remember right she had a very very bad driving record, with reckless endangerment charges within 3 weeks before she hit the cyclist.
    in the case of the driving record, that should be enough for suspension.

    my answer to the ringtone comment would be to this effect: "when i heal up, you're gonna have to download my foot outta your ---."

  18. #18
    Senior Member Alex's Avatar
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    Every time I use my phone while driving I know that I am not paying attention to the road and could potentially hit something while doing so(the boss would not accept i need to stop to talk to him ten times a day). It does not really matter where or when things tend to pop up on the road no matter what the driving conditions are. I would get charged for manslauter. I bet she is cute.

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    I don't mean the following in an ironic or cute way--if beatings and torture by police were the punishments for lethally negligent driving, then driving behavior would likely improve. If a ringtone-downloading driver were left in the gutter with police-issued broken bones while their VICTIM was taken to the hospital, maybe these morons would get the point.

  20. #20
    Portland Fred banerjek's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by skanking biker
    No--a willful or wanton disregard usually requires knowledge that there is a substantial probability of causing harm to someone...
    When the perpetrator is an idiot, the knowledge part will be hard to prove....

  21. #21
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    This proposed law is now IL House Bill 1382, currently assigned to the Judiciary II - Criminal Law Committee.

    This link will take you to a legislative description, schedule, and list of bill co-sponsors.
    Last edited by Recycle; 03-10-07 at 09:17 PM.

  22. #22
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    Wait just a second- she was negligent, and as a result she killed someone. Doesn't it seem obvious that that would consitute, well, negligent homicide? Would the district attorney have reacted any differenty had she veered onto the sidewalk and killed a pedestrian?
    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the precipitate.

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    The children! Think of the children!.......and then tell me why the children aren't being instructed properly, or, if they are, why the information they have differs from what the DA provides.

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by BoomBoomBoom
    That link doesn't work. What was it about?

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